Before we get to the cake part, let’s talk about fruit. Which is better for you—fruit juice or whole fruit? From a blood sugar perspective, it’s a better idea to eat the whole fruit, and here’s why. Fruit juice—even unsweetened—is a more concentrated form of sugar and is more likely to raise blood sugar to an unhealthy level. The fiber in a whole piece of fruit slows down the absorption of the sugar. Plus, when you drink a glass of orange juice, you are probably getting the juice of TWO oranges (or more), raising the level of sugar even further when compared to whole fruit. Other benefits of eating whole fruit include additional nutrients (like the bioflavonoids in the pith of an orange) and a greater feeling of fullness than juice alone provides.
So where do you begin if you just can’t imagine breakfast without a fruity beverage? If you’re hooked on fruit juice but would like to reduce its impact on your blood sugar, try pouring yourself 50% less juice and substituting water or sparking water for the rest. You can also experiment with replacing your fruit juice with fruit-infused waters like these. (I recommend using all organic ingredients when you make these.) This can be a challenging transition if you love your morning orange juice. But it can also be a good place to start to move away from a breakfast that spikes your blood sugar and incites cravings a few hours later.
This guideline of eating fiber to help prevent blood sugar spikes extends beyond the idea of choosing whole fruit over fruit juice. It’s a good principle to apply to entire meals. This study found that eating the protein and non-starchy vegetables of your meal first raised blood sugar less than eating bread and juice first. So including a fiber-rich salad, preferably at the beginning of the meal, is a great practice to adopt, while starting with bread or a starchy appetizer may raise blood sugar higher, encourage cravings and lead you to eat more.
So back to the cake. Most of us are not going to go through life without the occasional piece of cake, pie or fudge. (I know I’m not.) But when you know you’re going to indulge in a treat, it makes sense to load up on some crunchy vegetables first. You’ll most likely not only eat less of the treat food, but you may prevent a damaging blood sugar spike that puts you one step closer to insulin resistance and diabetes. (For more on that, see my post on The Blood Sugar Roller Coaster here.) Healthy, non-starchy vegetable fiber (raw seems to be preferable to cooked) before sugary or starchy carbs is, in my opinion, a good eating practice to adopt. It’s just one tool in the toolbox for helping to keep blood sugar stable. If you want to work on minimizing your risk of type 2 diabetes or if you already have symptoms of insulin resistance (see the previous post), two other tools to consider are a low-glycemic diet and regular exercise. Healthy for Life by Dr. Ray Strand, is a great book to seek out to learn more in this area.